Friday, May 13, 2011

Signal Watch Reads: Superman 711

Superman 711
Written by:  Chris Roberson (with nominal input via JMS)
Penciller:  Eddy Barrows
Inker:  JP Mayer
Colors:  Rod Reis
Letters:  John J Hill
Editors:  Wil Moss & Matt Idleson

insert "gets a real charge out of" or "finds this shocking" joke here

With each passing issue, you can only hope that DC realizes what they've got on their hands with Chris Roberson's Superman. I am certain editors Idleson and Moss know, and I can only cross my fingers and hope that after this Grounded storyline is in the rearview mirror, they have plans to let Roberson bring his magic back to Metropolis.

This issue accomplished quite a bit:
  • pushed the "why is Superman so bummed?" storyarc back into motion, with a macguffin
  • brought Jimmy Olsen into the action, exactly where he should be in a Superman comic, and gave him an opportunity for a little bit in the way of Jimmy-style heroics
  • showed what makes Superman different from other characters and, frankly, why I buy into The Man of Steel as a cool superhero (not that the power set, crystal fortress and groovy wife don't all do that)
  • took place partially here in lovely Austin, Texas for a few panels
  • more or less refuted that controversial "Superman hates America" story from a whole three weeks ago
While the story begins in Provo, Utah, we quickly move the action to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada

Kryptonians like beef bourguinnon with ketchup.  They hate cinnammon.
Sometime-Superman-villain Livewire is in Las Vegas going through every watt she can suck up out of the Roosevelt dam and tossing it around causing all kinds of havoc.  Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, happened to be on The Strip investigating another case when Livewire started chucking cars around, and so he uses...  The Signal Watch (whoo-hoo!) to summon Superman for aid.

You may remember Livewire from Superman: The Animated Series, a sort of mix of Howard Stern and Glen Beck who spent her time on the air talking about what a jerk Superman was, right up until a freak storm granted her crazy electrical powers.  I have a fondness for the character from the cartoon where she was perfectly voiced by Lori Petty, and I've always been glad she's been transplated from the cartoon to the DCU.

At Austin Books and Comics on Free Comic Book Day I was fortunate to briefly meet writer Chris Roberson and I tried to (as unawkwardly as possible) thank him for doing so much good with this title, and he commented on how much fun he was having.  I had to tell him "you can tell.  Its just a really fun book", because it is.  Even when the action is high and the stakes are grave, its still Superman flying around all over the place trying to think one step ahead of his foes and getting into crazy scrapes.  And it all feels like a Superman comic should feel, which is an odd, unquantifiable sort of judgment, but its so clear that Roberson understands how this is supposed to work, and its by making this something nifty to read (even more so if you know your Superman).

So at some point I was planning to write a post and talk about a Joe Kelly Superman story that I really loved from about 10 years ago in which Superman finds some of the DCU's villains and offers them a better way, if they'll let him help.  That's it.  That's really the whole story.  And it showed how much thought Kelly had put into what kind of person Superman might be, and if he really were all just about smacking around giant robots or waiting to foil Luthor.

This issue doesn't really echo Kelly's statement exactly, but rather than Superman simply slugging it out with Livewire, he and Jimmy figure out that something has gone wrong, and craft a solution (one I have high hopes will bear fruit in future Superman stories).

There's a brief conversation (one I have a theory on*) at the end of the issue in which Superman asserts that the American Way is about opportunity and reinvention, and he'll play a part in that, where he can.  Its a nice bit of flag waving, and entirely in tune with how Roberson has been playing Geoff Johns II and running around cleaning up other people's messes.  And like Kelly, Roberson sees Superman as someone more than the human-arsenal who knocks heads and lets the chips fall where they may in the aftermath.  Roberson allows Superman to understand his role in what's happened with Livewire and with his chance to help in a meaningful capacity, and that's...  sort of interesting given the limited palette of so many writers in comics.

Again, I'm very glad to see Jimmy brought into the action so seamlessly.  Its a refreshing change to see a writer acknowledge Superman's supporting cast, past history, etc...  But I laughed out loud when I figured out what Roberson had set up about two panels before it happened.  Pretty darn good bit for Jimmy.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention how astoundingly great I'm finding Eddy Barrows and JP Mayer on art chores.  I've talked about how the clean, DC-house-style of the current era works for me, and here these two demonstrate why that should be.  And, I don't know if this is on the page written by Roberson, but I love some small details they throw in, like the fact that the Vegas of the DCU has a casino across from New York, New York that's the Metropolis skyline, with a Daily Planet building about where I think the Eiffel Tower is at The Paris.  That's just good stuff. 

*if I learned that Moss and Idleson asked for this speech as a quick fix to their Action #900 troubles, I wouldn't be at all surprised

PS:  great review of this issue at Supergirl Comic Box Commentary

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